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Kurland St. Mary, England 1826
"Robert, I just had a rather odd letter from my aunt Jane." Lucy, Lady Kurland, came into her husband's study, the closely cross-written letter still in her hand. It was a cold day in Kurland St. Mary, with sullen gray skies holding the promise of snow. No one had yet ventured out for very good reason.
"Odd?" Robert looked up at her from his position behind his desk, where his two dogs slept quietly at his booted feet. "Your aunt Jane is one of the most upright and starchy people I have ever met. I doubt she even knows the meaning of the word."
"Well, that's just it." Lucy returned her attention to the letter. "She says that Julia will no longer accompany her to Elizabeth's christening and that Julia's engagement to Lord Penzey is at an end."
"Your aunt Jane is going to be Elizabeth's godmother, so why does it matter whether Julia comes or not?" Robert asked. "If Julia ended her engagement, she might not feel like attending a party in the countryside with a bunch of curious relatives."
"But we have already received our invitation to the wedding. Aunt Jane doesn't say whether Julia called it off or whether it was Penzey." Lucy frowned as she turned the letter sideways to read her aunt's crossed scrawl.
"Why does it matter?"
"Because if Julia did it, that will damage her chances of attracting another suitor because she will be considered flighty, and if he did it, then I suspect my uncle will be inquiring as to why."
"And taking Penzey to court to air the family dirty linen?" Robert shrugged. "I can't see that happening, can you?"
"It depends how far the marriage contract has progressed, and whether any money has changed hands." Lucy sighed. "Whatever the outcome, I cannot help but worry about my cousin."
Robert rose to his feet and came around the side of his desk to wrap a comforting arm around his wife's shoulders. "My dear girl, you have enough to worry about organizing this christening without taking on a problem that I am fairly certain the Earl and Countess of Harrington can deal with perfectly well by themselves."
"You're probably right," Lucy admitted as she briefly rested her head against her husband's shoulder. "Aunt Jane says Max will be joining them instead."
"Max?" Robert raised an eyebrow. "Now, why on earth would a young man about town allow himself to be roped into a family christening?"
"Because he's in disgrace again?" Lucy consulted the letter. "Apparently, Max is in debt. My uncle is refusing to even discuss settling his obligations and has insisted that Max accompany them to the christening."
Robert sighed. "I'm glad our children are still young."
"I can assure you that neither Ned nor Elizabeth will ever behave like this," Lucy said tartly.
Robert chuckled and flicked her cheek with his fingertip. "Don't be so sure, my dear. As you well know, I was quite wild in my younger years. Now, are you ready to accompany me to the rectory? I need to speak to your father about the new pony for Ned, and, I'm fairly certain you will enjoy a comfortable chat with my aunt about all the arrangements for the christening."
"She has offered to put some of our guests up in the rectory, which is very kind of her considering the twins have just come home for the school holidays," Lucy said as she tucked her hand into his elbow and headed toward the stairs. "I can't believe how much Luke and Michael have grown!"
"They are certainly going to be as tall and broad as your father," Robert agreed. "I can't imagine how much food they consume, can you?"
"Having been my father's housekeeper for years before my marriage, and responsible for ordering supplies for all my brothers, I can tell you that Cook will be kept very busy," Lucy replied.
Robert paused at the top of the stairs and looked up toward the nursery above. "Shall we take Elizabeth with us?"
His obvious adoration and devotion to their newly born daughter had taken Lucy somewhat by surprise. She never mentioned it directly, because it was such a pleasure to watch her rather stern husband leap to satisfy Elizabeth's every whim.